Urban Chickens and Lead

From the One More Thing To Worry About department, the New York Times has an article on lead levels in eggs laid by urban chickens “Worries About Lead for New York City’s Garden-Fresh Eggs.” According to the article, the lead levels found in New York City’s home grown eggs ranged from none to over a 100 parts per billion. Since the FDA does not have an acceptable lead level in eggs it’s difficult to interpret the results. And I have to wonder what unknown problems lurk in industrial eggs.

It’s a reminder that those of us who live in older cities and grow food need to confront the lead problem. Personally, I’d also like to see the Real Estate industry come clean on this issue beyond boiler plate disclosures buried in sales documents. But I’m not holding my breath.

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  1. I just know that lead paint was used on this 110-yr-old house. I had someone scrape paint a few years ago. The guy did not use plastic like I instructed him. He was an ignorant sort and told me later when I was angry he did not spread plastic I provided that the lead would just go in the soil and not bother anyone. Yeah, dummy! Finally, after many stupid actions on his part, I just stopped him, fired him.

    Actually, I have worried my hens are getting lead as they scratch around. AND, I worry that I am ingesting it…sigh. Plus, coal was burned in this house and at one time the coal was dumped in the yard.

    Wouldn’t my chickens be retarded?

  2. There’s a comment in the bottom of the article linked that basically says “This is why these chickens need to be brought under regulation, blah blah blah” that really peeved me. How about a nice (cheap!) public service announcement or a voluntary lead testing service?

  3. Lead in the chicken’s urban soil! no wonder my hens are such bird brains…

    on a serious note: I guess there are a few options to this- test your eggs for lead ppb and/or off-haul the backyard soil and bring in clean soil or create raised beds and a chicken tractor system where the birds are only on clean ground. or forego the chickens if this is all too much…

  4. Hello – My name is Tamara Rubin, I am the mother of lead poisoned children that is quoted in the New York Times article. I am also the founder of the Lead Safe America Foundation.

    The important point that was not mentioned in the article is that lead poisoning (even in very trace amounts – and yes trace amounts DO amount to poisoning) causes permanent brain damage in young children, brain damage leading to learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and other life-long health challenges (ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Symptons, etc.) It doesn’t take “eating paint chips” to poison a child – just a microscopic amount of lead could do it… like the amount found in many of the eggs that were tested.

    If that’s not enough to scare you (and by scare you – I mean encourage you to test your soil before you consider making an urban garden or keeping urban chickens) – lead poisoning in adults can cause kidney failure, heart disease, early onset Alzheimer’s and the fun one… reproductive disorders – including erectile dysfunction! (Most people pay attention to that one 🙂

    Please take care of yourselves and your children by getting your soil tested, getting your home tested and getting your children tested.

    For more information about the issue:

    I am making a documentary feature film about the subject and have posted some of my rough-cut sample footage (including clips from my interview with Noam Chomsky) here: http://www.MisleadMovie.com

    On my personal advocacy site I have an entire section about lead and chicken eggs (it has been up since 2009) http://www.MyChildrenHaveLeadPoisoning.com

    If you would like a free test-kit to test the paint in your home for lead, click the “like” button on my Facebook page and send me a message on that page with your mailing address: http://www.Facebook.com/MisleadMovie – I also post pictures there of household objects that I test for lead and I am happy to answer any questions about the subject on that page.

    ….and if you want to make a difference you can help get the word out by making a tax-deductible contribution in support of my advocacy work and my film at http://www.LeadSafeAmerica.org or making a pledge on our Kickstarter project: http://kck.st/Qv0lbL

    Thank you.

    Tamara Rubin
    Executive Director
    Lead Safe America

  5. I have been trying to get a community garden started in my small town in NW Oklahoma – the very first issue I bring up is that I would want the soil tested where ever the city deemed a suitable spot for the garden – this immediately shuts down any positive reception to doing the garden at all – no one wants to be responsible for the cleanup or removal & replacement of the soil – it’s very frustrating. A local church had a plot for the community and I got a section and planted tomatoes – the ground was in such poor condition and just digging down a few inches you could tell there had been a building on the site not too long prior… I left and never went back – no-one wanted to listen to my concerns. I own a small bungalow that was built in 1918 and more than positive that the paint is lead based – I will be testing shortly – I have no small children to be concerned with but I am concerned none the less. ~S.Valpey-Parent

    • This is a common reaction, unfortunately. I told a number of families with kids on my block about our lead situation and got indifferent reactions. Clearly, we’ve got a lot of work to do to raise awareness about lead.

  6. So… how do you get lead out of your soil? I’ve heard of using sunflowers to suck up some soil poisons, does this work? There has to be something more sustainable than digging up your whole yard and replacing the soil there. Right?

    • Sadly, no. Lead is an element. It doesn’t go away. Even if you pull it up with sunflowers, those sunflowers have to be disposed of. I wish I could offer a happier answer.

  7. Regarding indifferent reactions: it may be learned helplessness. When people hear there is something that can cause them permanent damage, even in small quantities, and that it is already everywhere, and that there is no good way to get rid of it, they tend to put their fingers in their ears. I am beyond annoyed that the charging cable for my laptop, the curtain rod rings from pottery barn, and especially seemingly anything to do with water from the hardware store (hoses, spray nozzles, wands) all come with a very casual warning: “Oh by the way this contains lead so try not to touch it and if you do wash your hands right away. Every time.” 😛 At least for the hoses we’ve been able to buy the RV hoses which have to be good for drinking water, but no luck on anything else. Dramm said that the lead was because of the brass components and that ‘California just makes us put that warning label on’. Really I don’t want to test my soil if I know I’m actively trickling lead into my property every time I water something anyway. Sigh.

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